Libraries are always so interesting: a man's bookcase is something more interesting than the man himself, sometimes the one existing portrait of his mind.
—E. W. Hornung, The Crime Doctor
|E. W. Hornung. NYPL
Sadly, Oscar—the only child of Hornung and Constance, Arthur Conan Doyle's sister—was killed in action at Ypres in July 1915. Seeking solace, Hornung served as a YMCA volunteer during the war—working in a canteen; maintaining a wartime library for soldiers in Arras, France, and a postwar one in the vicinity of Cologne, Germany; looking for friends of Oscar; and hoping to encounter Conan Doyle's serviceman son, Kingsley (who died of flu in 1918). His Notes of a Camp Follower on the Western Front (1919) tells about his war experiences and provides insight into what servicemen were reading (popular authors included Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Marie Corelli, Anthony Hope, and E. Phillips Oppenheim). Interestingly, he reports only one reader for Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White. Pertaining to the works of his brother-in-law, he wrote, "Messrs. Holmes and Watson were the most flourishing of old firms, and Gerard the only Brigadier taken seriously at my counter" (Notes 141). His own output was not ignored:
"When I was up the line," said one of my friends, bubbling over with a compliment, "a chap said to me, 'You know that old—that—that elderly man who runs the Rest Hut? He's the author of Raffles.'"Adds Hornung in mock outrage, "Elderly! One would as lief be labelled Virtuous or Discreet" (Notes 144–45). Hornung died of pneumonia in 1921 at 54, hardly an advanced age.
King relates that Hornung kept a diary between December 1917 and March 1918 that took the format of letters to his wife. He drew on this diary to write Notes, but King indicates that the diary reveals more about Hornung's reasons for war service than Notes does. Hornung's friend Shane Chichester preserved a typescript of the diary, which is now in the University of Birmingham's Cadbury Research Library along with other papers. King also provides a heart-warming glimpse of Hornung at work via the World War I memoir of Carlos Paton Blacker, Oscar's Eton classmate who became a noted psychiatrist.
King's article follows "The A. J. Raffles Stories Reconsidered: Fall of the Gentleman Ideal" by Jeremy Larance from the first 2014 issue of English Literature in Transition.